About Two Owls

Monday 26 June 2017

Two Owls in Northumberland Part 1

Two weeks ago Jackie and I found ourselves meeting a very keen group at the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel to see what Northumberland could offer in the way of birds.  After everyone had dropped their baggage off in the rooms we set off for a walk down to the beach.  Our walk got us off to a good start with Sandwich Tern, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow amongst many of the common species.
Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel
Next morning the weather wasn't kind but we decided that we would continue to Long Nanny and the tern colony as the forecast said it would improve.  It did but only for the rain to pour down on us as we were walking to the colony.  We arrived at the wardens hut sat high on the dunes and were met, even in the wet, by the sound of Arctic and Common Terns calling continuously all around us.  The Little Terns unfortunately had been having a bad time as a high tide had washed through the nesting area.  The wardens had lifted all the nests and placed them on crates to prevent this, but it soon came apparent that this time it wasn't enough.  They had lifted the eggs and waited for the water to subside but it took two hours which was too long for the Little Tern and they deserted.  However some them came back and twelve pairs were nesting again and hopefully will be successful.  After getting rather wet we headed back to the hotel for lunch a warm up and dry out.

We took a lazy lunch as we could see the weather was brightening and we were waiting for confirmation that the Farne Island boats were going or not.  As it happened they weren't so thinking on our feet we decided to take the coastal route and stop at a number of places that we had good sightings in the past.  Starting at Warkworth where we had a couple of stops.  The first of which paid off with a sighting of a Grey Seal near the weir, and as we were waiting for it to surface again a call from the group of "its up other there".  I looked and saw an Otter on the surface, we watched it for sometime before it drifted off downstream.  Jackie said "I think I've got a merganser way down the channel" but getting the scope onto it, it was a female Goosander which eventually flew up and landed nearer and gave us great views. 
female Goosander - Warkworth © Nick Hull
This spot wasn't finished, with a duck Eider and a couple of Grey Heron one of which flew into the trees on the opposite bank.  We soon realised there was a small Heronry and we could see a number of young birds awaiting parents to return with food.  There were a couple of pairs of Greylags with goslings and in the field opposite Canada Geese with theirs.

We moved on down river about half a mile to see if the Otter was still lurking but we couldn't locate it but had good views of several Eider and a duck with her ducklings.  We located a Sand Martin colony on the opposite bank and found twenty six Ringed Plover and two summer plumaged Dunlin and a couple of Sandwich Terns.
Otter - Warkworth, River Coquet 
Our next stop was Hauxley where we looked out over the sea from the beach and saw our first auks flying by mainly Guillemots and Puffins, there were more Eider scattered offshore, several Kittiwakes and oddly we had a flyby Gadwall.  The afternoon was moving on but we had time to do another location so we thought we would try Druridge Country Park, a place we haven't visited before.  We added a number of woodland species including adult and young Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.  On the lake Common Terns, Great Crested and Little Grebes, Swallows, both Sand and House Martins and Swift hawking insects and Reed Warblers were singing from the reeded margins. On our way back to the hotel Sparrowhawk and a Brown Hare were seen.

On the 11th we woke to a sunny but breezy day we birded Beadnell and Budle Bay, we added little to our list, though at Beadnell we had Gannets, Arctic and Little Terns, Fulmar and a skein of 40+ Common Scoter.  At Bamburgh we recorded our first Northern Marsh Orchids in the sand dunes and admired a wild flower field which seemed the attract Reed Buntings, Goldfinch and Linnets.
Northern Marsh Orchid © Nick Hull
In the afternoon we boarded one of Billy Shiels boats that took us around the Farnes and dropped us off on Inner Farne for an hour of birding indulgence.  These islands just have to be one of the best seabird colonies in Britain and for a wildlife photographer an ideal location.  To get up close to all three auk species, terns, gulls and Shags and of course St Cuthbert's ducks, plus Grey Seals and even Rabbit.  Not forgetting the Gannets passing by.  Our hour on the island passed so quickly, it seemed we had hardly arrived and we were having to take our chances with the Arctic Tern on the path back to the jetty.
The walk back through the Arctic Terns to the jetty
Arctic Tern on Martin's head, aways good to wear a hat
Selection of Inner Farne Birds © Nick Hull

Thursday 8 June 2017

Part 2 - Damselflies, Woodcock & Nightjar

Our walk at Fiddleford Mill is one we enjoy in spring as it gives a variety of wildlife, from the car park we started with Swallows and Pheasant, quickly followed by House Sparrow and Robin.   As we walked through to the Mill and along by the Mill Pond we had a quick look at the Archimedes Screw hydro generator and here we found a good number of Banded demoiselle they seemed to be everywhere.  By the weir we had four Grey Wagtails, three juveniles and an adult female, a very nice sight.  Another Damsel this time a Blue-tailed Damselfly, then I heard a Garden Warbler and quickly located it singing out in the open on a nearby thorn bush, all had good views before it crossed the river to another song post.   Walking towards the old railway bridge as we passed the rushbeds we watched a number of Reed Warbler, a nest was found and we watched as the pair flew in and added nesting material to the not quite complete nest.  We stopped on the old railway bridge for some time and checked off a number of species including our only Sedge Warbler.
Banded Demoiselle - Fiddleford Mill © Nick Hull
Walking along the trail we added Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and a Holly Blue butterflies, also added Goldcrest and Chiffchaff to our list.  David then picked up two circling raptors which turned out to be a pair of Sparrowhawks.  We watched them for a while and the female crossed the field to our left and put the wind up a number of Jackdaws which were feeding out in the field.  Buzzard was next, in fact by the time we finished we had recorded three pairs.  We continued recording the regular species on our way back to the car park.  We walked a little way down the road and looked out over the fields to the north.  David did it again picking out a Hobby which gave pretty good views catching flying insects over the field and we finished with another raptor, a Kestrel, which brought a nice walk to an end.

Bringing you right up to date we had our annual evening Nightjar and Woodcock walk which turned out to be one of the best ever.  We walked a slightly different route then usual and checked off the usual woodland species Song Thrush, Jay, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff in the wood.  As we came out on to the heath, Dartford Warbler was heard and later seen and a Hobby performed well though a little distant.  Stonechat and another Dartford sat up on the gorse, also a stunning male Linnet.  A Mistle Thrush stood on the path and a Willow Warbler was singing close by.

We made our way down to the area of the heath where Jackie and I hoped we would find our target species. Though it was still light on our way we watched a Serotine bat was hunting along the forest edge.  Arriving at where we thought we would be able to get good views based on previous knowledge of walks past, it was now just a case of patience and keeping our eyes peeled and ears attuned.  I picked up a quick view of a bird disappearing behind tree out to our right I was sure it was a Woodcock.  Keeping my eye half on the area and the other looking for Nightjar, I heard the 'Tsip' then 'grunt grunt' of a Woodcock which flew pretty much over us the first of possibly four that circled or flew over us roding.  
Woodcock roding
Jackie then asked the time it was 21:20hrs she commits "they should be singing soon", I answer "after half past" I had no sooner said this and the first Nightjar started it evening 'Churr' and it was close.  Then another and within a few minutes we had at least five males singing around us. We heard wing clapping and quipping, a bird in flight, Jackie tried the old trick with the white hanky and from nowhere a male flew right over us.  Over the next quarter of an hour we were treated to two different pairs flying over and around us absolute magic.  After having our fill, we started to return to our cars when Jackie sat churring on a bare branch of a tree and we were able to get good scope views.  We eventually dragged ourselves back to the cars finding a couple of other churring birds and seeing the Serotine Bat again.  What a absolutely fantastic night.
Churring Nightjar 

Saturday 3 June 2017

A week of Butterflies, Damsels & Orchids Part 1

A busy week visiting Martin Down twice and Butterfly Conservation Dorset reserve by Cerne Abbas Giant, Badbury Rings NT finishing our week with a walk at Fiddleford Mill. 

Our two visits to Martin Down produced many of the reserves specialties, our first walk was mainly for the birds but as alway we never pass something good without pointing it out.  Martin Down as a remnant downland is an oasis for many species and Turtle Dove, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Skylark can be still found here in relatively good numbers even though all are declining some more than others. We started with Yellowhammer, Whitethroat and a Great Tit family, then a little way further on we heard our first Turtle Dove and I found it singing in a tree along the hedgerow and it gave good views.  Walking around our circler route we counted at least eight singing males, of this endangered dove, listening to their purring song was truly wonderful. We also recorded Common and Small Blue, Small Heath, Peacock, Brimstone, and a surprise was a Clouded Yellow.
Turtle Dove - Martin Down © Nick Hull
Clouded Yellow Butterfly - Martin Down © Nick Hull
Our second visit was a general wildlife visit so we targeted all the above and were successful in finding them all and even added two more singing Turtle Dove.  We also recorded 13 species of Butterfly which included Marsh Fritillary, Adonis Blue and added Burnt Orchid, Fragrant and Common Orchids which either not seen or were not fully out on the previous visit. 
Burnt Orchid - Martin Down ©Nick Hull
Jackie and I took a day to visit Cerne Abbas near Dorchester a site we haven't visited for a few years it is at the same site as the famous Cerne Giant which is carved into the chalk hillside.  Butterfly Conservation Dorset take care of the site and work hard to maintain it for the butterflies.  Our target species here were Duke of Burgundy and Marsh Fritillary but we also added Large Skipper to our growing year list.
Duke of Burgundy - Cerne Abbas © Nick Hull
Pupa & adult Marsh Fritillary - Cerne Abbas © Nick Hull

Part 2 to follow including our Nightjar & Woodcock evening.